I mean manifesto in perhaps its strictest sense – that of manifesting, to render present, nothing more. I am not interested in owning some ground or staking out an arena within which I will claim some sort of dramatic ownership. Oh no. It seems to me far too many people are already doing that under the pretense of defining what drama should be. I really don’t want to play that game. In fact, quite the opposite. These ramblings are nothing more than notes to myself as I write and why I write at that particular time. There is no continuity here!
But why write this at all?
The other day I received both an acceptance and a rejection of two different pieces of work all within five minutes of eachother and both from the same theatre. One arrived in an email and the other as a parcel through the post. The acceptance was for a small five minute piece of theatre and the rejection was that of a major work of drama which I had sent away over six months ago. Within those few moments I moved from elation that a piece of mine had (finally) been accepted to utter despair and no little anger that the more important work had been rejected. Now rejection is a writer’s lot. And believe me in the last three years, I have received nothing but rejections – all positive and encouraging but rejections none the less – so why should I be so rattled by that last letter?
Enough to begin this anyway.
The rejection was for a play entitled A Little Winter Love – a dark and chaotic descent into a ruined House the night after it has been cracked open in Civil War. Within this House, theatre, madness and war collide in uneasy and grotesque ways. It is a complex work, drawing on and treading that uneasy divide between our sanity and our need to dream – and asks questions about the cost for both. The characters in it bleed constantly in a metaphorical sense and somehow also strive for love and truth even as the remains of the House collapse about them into a new dark reality.
The rejection letter praised my ‘gusto and care’ in tackling such a complex theme, the use of ‘metaphor and allegory’, the ‘poetic’ use of language and so on – its only criticism was that perhaps some judicial editing might sharpen the drama. Now I don’t want to harp on about the letter as a rejection – quite the opposite – but only that it made me sit down and think (quite literally) about what the hell I am doing writing such stuff and why I should expect an audience to sit through this kind of stuff! To give you another example – in the last three years, I have written seven plays all of which are not what might be labelled easy plays – they are populated by grotesques, by monsters, by characters who are always in some way aware of their own provisionality.
For example, Constantinople, Its Dreams –
The play is a series of scenes from a degenerate and ennui-filled City which was once the greatest city in the known world. In this play, History is both a meditation and an escape – a dream in which the past imagines the present.
Here, in this City, a skinmaker hides an imperial map inside the folds of his own flesh, marionette-makers carve divine models based upon the newly dead, a senator is lured into a trap by assassin-mimes, a woman spends her days tearing herself out of all the books she can find, a map-maker draws maps only to entomb the living against their own falling sense of loneliness, an architect mocks the weight of the City and yearns to design it again as a mirror to the barbarians who always besiege it, a fading actress is condemned to act out her dying biography, and even in the endless Fall of the City, a willful woman coerces the Turks who have finally broken in to heave the books away to a faint West and herald the Renaissance . . .
Constantinople, Its Dreams is a melancholic landscape in which grotesques survive to render our own world free from depredation.
That is what I will be using these writings to explore, I think. An affirmation? Perhaps not – but a certain clarity, yes.
The skinmaker is one who unravels the skin of another – to get inside, to understand – and a playwright is perhaps the greatest skinmaker for not only does the playwright unseam characters, they must be sown up again so that actors may inhabit them; so that an audience may slide into them vicariously . . . So perhaps these notes are after all my own dissection into that worn skin I call my imagination.